Photos from this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida and Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld Orlando will be added to the gallery in coming weeks. We were able to visit all ten haunted houses, the scare zones, and the one (!) show at Universal, and also all five haunted houses, the scare zones and three (!) of the four shows at SeaWorld Orlando.
While Universal’s offerings had zero scares (the only time we heard anyone scream all night was from a chainsaw in a scare zone), they sure were amazing walk through theatrical experiences.
SeaWorld, however, actually had real haunted houses — letting in groups rather than a large conga line. The groups were too big so most scares were spoiled, but we were certainly startled many times during that four hour event (mostly in the scare zones).
Over at my Des Moines Haunted Houses website project, folks there know I scream like a little girl and am a pretty easy target. Seeing these two big theme park haunts be so tame was a surprise — especially with the reputation of HHN being one of the biggest haunt events in the nation.
NOTE: This post was originally written a few years ago.
I was working for a startup tech company in Silicon Valley when 9/11 happened. I remember going to the lobby of the hotel I was staying at and the front desk clerk saying “I hope you weren’t flying out today.” I was not, and I had no idea why she said that.
After the hotel shuttle dropped me off at work, I learned of what was going on. I spent my work day distracted as I kept an eye on news websites. Many must have been doing the same, as “big” news sites were reverting to very sparse, simple web pages to keep up with the traffic.
And even though Disneyland and Walt Disney World were far away from the attacks, the parks closed — something they rarely did. If you tried to go to the official websites, you saw the following:
It took years for tourism to recover. Hotels closed. Disney projects were canceled. But recover it did, and here we are, almost twenty years later, with some of the busiest parks and largest expansions those parks have ever seen.
Today, as we “Never Forget,” I hope all continue to move forward.
Within a short four hour drive is a place called House on the Rock. Folks have been telling me about it for the past two decades, but I knew nothing about it. I have now visited it, and think I still know nothing about it.
A short drive from there is Wisconsin Dells, home of endless tourist traps such as Top Secret, Ghost Outpost, Haunted Mansion and Lost Temple. Some higher end attractions such as Wizard Quest (in a new location) and Ripley’s Believe it or Not make this a great way to spend part of a day.
I have about 1900 photos from House on the Rock I need to sort then share, and hundreds more from spots in the Dells.
What a short, strange trip it was. And on the drive home, we found Hook’s Cheese Company where they actually make cheese, and had a small refrigerator of their cheeses for sale.
I was fooled by the House on the Rock, but some quick research when I got back home explained a lot of what I saw. And now I am even more impressed.
Tracks from the official Universal Studios Escape (as it was known back then) Islands of Adventure theme park have been posted to the official Universal Orlando Resort (as it is known today) YouTube channel:
The soundtrack was released for the 1999 opening, I believe, but these tracks are listed as being from a “2000 reissue” version. I may have the original disc somewhere, and I know it had many more tracks than what have been shared so far.
I am just hoping the crazy track from Toon Lagoon makes it. The custom soundtracks were one of the best things about Islands of Adventure. Toon Lagoon especially stood out with its massive multi-track arrangement with speakers all over the land playing parts of the looping soundtrack. (This would be done two years later with the opening of Disney’s California Adventure when it had something similar for the Paradise Pier section of the park.)
I have seen so many videos taken at Universal Orlando Resort on attractions that specifically forbid photos or video recording. I wondered if there was some kind of exception for video bloggers, so I asked…
Please know that Universal Orlando Resort does not condone the behavior you described of these YouTube vloggers. For the safety of our Guests, as well as show quality when applicable, we do not allow filming, flash photography, or Go-Pro style mounted cameras on our attractions.
Universal Orlando Resort Guest Communications
So, yeah. I guess all the signs that say don’t do it actually are there because you aren’t supposed to do it.
I created some Google Maps layers that show the walking path (called “Garden Walk”) between the on-site hotels and the park entrances. It includes markers for the boat docks, bus dropoffs and security checkpoints, as well. You can enable just the items you want to see. (For example, you only care about the walking route from Aventura to Universal Studios Florida.)
West Side – Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls, Royal Pacific
Haunted Mansion, not to be confused with The Haunted Mansion (2003), opened in theaters today. Since most of the movie is set in the mansion, product placement was not as easy to do. Watch for verbal references to:
Zillow – there really is a Zillow listing for this mansion, a very clever movie tie in.
Amazon – though perhaps just a joke…
CVS – This one was blatant. The medium brings out a notepad and says that she got it at CVS.
COSTCO – I forget where this was mentioned.
Burger King – a Burger King fry bag is passed around in a car, and references are made to its contents.
What others did you notice? Please leave a comment and I will update the list.
After an initial attempt to sell tickets on July 6th, ticket sells resumed on July 11th. A short time before the selling queue opened at 9 a.m. PST, folks were able to join a holding queue which was (so we are told) going to randomly insert us in the actual ticket queue.
I was there before 9 a.m., and remained in the queue until just after 8 p.m. PST when all tickets were sold out.
During the day, the screen would update as certain days became “limited” or sold out. I took screenshots every time I noticed a change, and if there is interest, I’ll write a post that shows which dates sold out first.
It was quite the waste of a day. And this, my friends, is the same company that folks are saying is in financial trouble because Indy is only the 12th highest grossing film in the world, currently.
My grandparents took me to Branson, Missouri back in 1984. That Branson was a very different place than the Branson that exists today. Although the amusement park Silver Dollar City did exist, Branson was mostly focused on live entertainment – music venues, stage shows and such. Many big name country stars had theaters there, or would have later.
Today, most of the big name celebrities that were once there have passed on. While there are a few namesake theaters (Dick Clark has one), others have been torn down. No more Mickey Gilley, no more Jim Stafford.
BUT, the tourist traps are alive and well. We recently drove down to Branson and took a look at some of them. Over 2300 photos will be added to my “Other Places” photo gallery, covering spots such as…
Beyond the Lens – a mish-mash of photo ops (selfie spots), odd displays (Bigfoot and the JFK assasination?), freeplay games, and VR. It also featured the FlyRide which was such a ripodd of Disney’s Soarin’ over California that it even used yellow straps on the seatbelts, and the movie contained scenes with hot air baloons, hang gliders, an animal jumping in to the water and a number of scenes copied from the Disney original.
Butterfly Palace – larger zoos have places like this, but I had never been to one that let me “feed” the butterflies. There was also a 3-D movie, a small animal display, a rope/forest and, for some reason, a mirror maze.
Dolly Parton’s Stampede – No longer called the Dixie Stampede, this dinner show was in its 29th season (I believe). Dinner was served while you watched a horse/comedy/stunt show. The show was great, but there were some things that really seemed bad for an entity that’s been doing this for almost three decades.
Fantastic Caverns – not actually in Branson, but about an hour away. This drive-through cavern experience was one of the best entertainment things I have ever done. It was brilliantly done and operated.
Hollywood Was Museum – An excellent was museum. The last time I visited one (in Dallas), you looked at the figures from behind ropes. This one had them on the floor and you could stand next to them to get photos. They even had props you could use (such as putting on a red silk robe or bunny earts to lay in bed next to Hugh Hefner). This place also had the Castle of Chaos which was a moving seat 3-D shooter game, and Hanna’s Maze of Mirrors which was an evolution of mirror mazes that surprised me – it even had a storyline.
Retromania – An 80’s-themed bar/cafe on one side, then an attraction on the other. While it is mostly just 80’s stuff on display on walls, there were some arcade games on freeplay, some cimena seats where you could sit and watch an 80s movie, a small 80’s-themed haunted house, an 80’s music blacklight minigolf course, and several escape rooms. Paying to do an escape room allowed access to all the rest.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not – I have visited Ripley’s locations in Dallas and Wisconsin Dells, so it was nice to see another variation.
Titanic Museum – even though it may look like a tourist trap from the outside, with a building that looks like the Titanic hitting an ice berg, inside was a serious and well-done museum. Truly one of the most enjoyable museum experiences I have ever had.
…and side trips to restaurants like Starvin’ Marvins, Crazy Craigs Treehouse and the “original” Outback Steak and Oyster Bar (with signs everywhere explaining it has nothing to do with the Outback many of us have down the street back home).
As time permits, I’ll share some photo essays on the experience, with pros and cons of doing a weekend at Branson versus a theme park trip to an expensive Disney or Universal park.